Being hot can be uncomfortable. But it you develop heatstroke, it’s a medical emergency.
Spending time outdoors on a hot, humid day can be downright uncomfortable. If you’re not careful, it also increases your risk of heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
Heatstroke is a condition that can cause serious health complications or even death and should be considered a medical emergency. Heatstroke occurs when your body struggles to regulate your body temperature. Although heatstroke can occur any time it’s hot, the condition is more likely to happen if it’s hot and humid. That’s because it’s more difficult for sweat to evaporate from your skin due to increased moisture in the air. Evaporation provides a natural cooling effect that prevents overheating.
It’s important to be able to identify common heatstroke symptoms. Knowing how to avoid heat-related illness that can lead to heatstroke can also protect your health this summer.
If you have heatstroke, you may develop one or more of these symptoms:
- 104oF fever or higher
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- Dry, red skin
- Nausea or vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Weak, rapid pulse
If you or anyone else experiences these signs and symptoms, call 911 immediately. Move to a cool place while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Remove extra clothing, lie down with legs raised and sip water or a sports drink. Resting in a tub filled with cool (not cold) water or applying cool compresses to the groin, neck and armpits will help lower body temperature.
How to Prevent Heatstroke
Although heatstroke is a very dangerous condition, it’s easy to prevent it by following these steps:
- Pay attention to symptoms: Heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke if you don’t get out of the heat. Heat exhaustion symptoms may include headache, dizziness, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, weakness, vomiting, nausea and pale skin.
- Look at the heat index: The heat index takes into account the air temperature and the effects of relative humidity. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends being extremely careful if you’ll be spending time outside when the heat index is 90oF or higher.
- Make hydration a priority: If you’re outside on a hot day, be sure to drink water at least every 20 minutes to prevent dehydration. If you’re dehydrated, your urine will be dark yellow. You may urinate less than normal and feel dizzy, lightheaded, thirsty or tired.
- Check on vulnerable people: Young children and older adults are more likely to develop heatstroke. So are people who are overweight, have health conditions such as heart disease, or take medications for poor circulation, depression or insomnia. Check on these people often and urge them to go inside or move to a shady spot if they begin to show signs of heat exhaustion.
- Don’t think you’re immune: Heatstroke can affect anyone, even people who are physically fit. On hot and humid days, skip your workout or move it inside. Don’t perform strenuous activities and pay attention to signs of heat-related illness.
- Double-check the backseat: Pediatric vehicular heatstroke has claimed the lives of 883 children since 1998. If you’re traveling with children, always check your backseat when you arrive at your destination. Don’t leave your child in a hot car while you run errands, even if the windows are open. The interior of the car can become dangerously hot in as little as 10 minutes.
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Date Last Reviewed: June 15, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD